History, for its late visitors
Two quick revisits from the shadowy pages of history in the form of newsy events in England in recent times, which were as distant and as unrelated as the English medieval and Indian modern periods were to each other, were incidents enough to turn you into a little brooder, if not a philosopher in your right, if you are in any way interested in the study of these three diverse, but also closely connected academic subjects, such as history, literature and philosophy. Richard III of England’s bones winning a re-burial in Leicester after a court order, and the expensive, sad bidding of King Tipu Sultan of India’s gold ring with ‘Ram’ inscription in a private auction are the points of discussion.
That history revisits itself may be a cliché, but it is an irrefutable statement indeed. Philosophically insightful and politically didactic, this saying has stood the test of a thousand big and small practical demonstrations in the laboratory of time in the micro and the macrocosmic world of individuals and nations. All that one needs to do is to observe and correlate the incidents of past and present in specific contexts and learn lessons, which may be moral or otherwise, whenever and wherever they happen.
Literature- this again is nothing less than a cliché is said to be the mirror of the society, but in most cases, it also delivers messages in the form of a dialogue or poetic line, which are prophetically insightful for generations to come, and sometimes get too predictive. If only one keeps a tab on the recent developments. The bottom-line of the above passage is that the connection of literature, philosophy and history is powerful, and the combo gives insights like nothing else does.
However, the question is, are we taught lessons in history with some dash of intrinsic philosophy, which important incidents and events carry for the successive generations to teach a lesson or two? Moreover, are we taught a little of literature belonging to or about the era or the incident, or the historical figure to get a dash of insight into what the combo of history, literature and philosophy (values, beliefs, way of life) offers? The answer is in all certainty a big no. The branches are treated as separate and as such are taught separately. Neither the teachers nor the students think it worthwhile to meddle in the related business of the other branch, even though the subject under study has a lot of insight to get from a little study of the other branch.
Just ask yourself. When you studied history in your high school or college, or when (if) you watched the mega-serial in the 90s called, The Sword of Tipu Sultan, were you told that the tiger of Mysore, King Tipu Sultan wore a gold ring, with inscription-Ram on it, which was taken off his dead body by a British general after he was killed in the Battle of Srirangapatanam in 1799? Wouldn’t you have appreciated or would have got a little more thoughtful about the secular testimonial of this great muslim king of South India, whose priceless ring then awaited sale in a private auction, something that happened only this week. The jewelled golden ring was sold in an auction in London despite criticism from heritage groups for 1,45,000 pounds. One wonders why don’t recent updates about things of the past get added to the course curricula of the related chapters of history, especially those which are so much laced with intrinsic social values?
Take another example. King of England, Richard III, whose skeletal remains were exhumed from a car parking lot in Leicester in England in 2012, after nearly 530 years of his death in the battlefield, recently earned a decent interment after a judicial pronouncement to that effect following different demands by the descendents that Richard of York be reburied in York Minster instead. As to how the University of Leicester found out that the excavated human remains were accurately candidates for the Richard III’s body is another success story of genetic science- DNA evidence and Osteology-analysis of the condition of the bones, radiocarbon dating and other scientific analysis.
The graphic details of the 21st century post-mortem or laboratory analysis of the legless skeletons matched the horrendous details recorded in the history five hundred years ago or as described in the literature of the time, notably by Shakespeare. The curved middle of the skeleton, the skull injuries, the post death insult injuries found on the bones were found to be consistent with historic details regarding the way this last King of England had got killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485 during the War of the Roses, and his body humiliated after death. His death signified the end of the middle ages in England. For a student of English literature, courtesy William Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard III, in which he is portrayed as a villain and a murderer, these developments should be interesting as it should be for the students of the history of England, if not from efficacy angle, then from the perspectives of scientific discoveries of the true wounds of the past. The authenticity angle.
Even William Shakespeare is not without blame for siding with the Tudor King Henry VII who ruled England soon after, made him proudly claim his being evil. See what the King says, ‘What do I fear myself? /There is none else by./Richard loves Richard; that is I and I. / Is there a murder here? / No, Yes I am. /’ But beauty is the irony in these Shakespearean lines: ‘I have set my life upon the cast, / And I will stand the hazards of the die.’ Think about the exhumation of the bones of the Richard III 500 years after his death, see the wounds on the skull yourself (thanks to the internet) and decide for yourself if the King had stood true to the Shakespeare penned words or not. He played the dice to get a second, thoroughly acknowledged re-burial, some 1.5 million pound matter in the soon to be upgraded cathedral in Leicester, soon to be a tourist hot spot.
The author works with the department of information and public relations, Odisha